by Mike Shea on 26 January 2005
Yesterday great joy arrived at my apartment door in the manifestation of two 3 ounce bottles of Noodler's black fountain pen ink.
Now I love fountain pens but I also love knowing that my written word could conceivably last for a thousand years and I don't trust normal fountain pen ink. For about the past year, I have used Pilot G2 rollerball ink. G2 is archival quality, acid free, water resistant, costs a dollar at just about any grocery store, drug store, or stationary store, and fits inside of my favorite Waterman Expert rollerball pen as well as Rotring, Sheaffer, and other fancy pens. For the last year I used this ink exclusively, but something was missing. Here's the problem:
Fountain pens are cool.
Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Neil Stephenson all wrote novels with a fountain pen. The technology of a fountain pen hasn't changed much since Lewis Waterman invented the capillary feed system in his fountain pen in 1884. World leaders used a Waterman fountain pen to sign the treaty of Versallis, one of the most damaging documents ever written (many blame the treaty of Versallis for the rise of Nazi Germany).
Fountain pens are classy. They feel traditional and cultured. They write smoothly without a single moving part. But there is a problem, a hypocracy.
Fountain pen ink is almost always water-based ink and while much of it is acid free and safe for use on high quality paper for permanent work, it is far from waterproof. I tested this by writing with Waterman-brand fountain pen ink on one side of a sheet of paper and Pilot G2-based rollerball ink on the other. I boiled the page for five minutes and removed it. The G2 ink was fine. The Waterman ink was completely gone.
Fountain pens, however, require water-based ink or they gum up and quit working right. When I tried to put an acrylic acid-free waterproof ink into my Waterman Phileas fountain pen, it gummed up in a couple of days. Only washing it out and replacing it with water-based ink made it write well again.
All seemed lost. Fountain pen ink didn't meet the criteria for Mike Shea's permanent inking solution. The criteria includes the following:
But then, after much digging on the web and some suggestions from people over at Moleskinerie and other sources, I heard of a new ink, a magical ink:
Noodler's fountain pen ink.
This ink, though water-based, becomes waterproof when it chemically bonds to the cellulose on paper. A variety of tests in the harshest of circumstances shows that Noodler's fountain pen ink on paper can survive water soaking, acetone, naphtha, bleach, ammonia, blue magic, industrial cleaners and chemical lifters. A quick query out to Usenet gave me back the ink's pH acidity level of 7.1. pHs of 7 and above are considered acid free.
So I ordered up two bottles from Fountain Pen Hospital at $12 for a 3 ounce bottle and last night it arrived. What did I find?
I loaded my three fountain pens full of the Noodler's ink including my Waterman Phileas fine tip, my Waterman Expert 2 fine tip, and my Lamy Safari medium tip. I wrote out a page of text using each of the three pens for one or two paragraphs. I cut it up, took one of the paragraphs, and soaked it in water for about 20 minutes. Its just fine. The ink is as strong as it was when I put it in.
I found something else as well. My Expert 2 fountain pen, my personal favorite pen, had a bit of a broad line when writing with Waterman ink. When I switched to Noodler's I found that the line the pen wrote was much narrower yet flowed as smooth as I could ask for. I wrote a couple pages of a story in my favorite Moleskine pocket plain notebook without any bleed through and the tip width is perfect. I couldn't ask for a better pen.
So I now have an ink both worthy of daily writing and traditional enough to let me enjoy writing strange tales of the macabre in my new leather-bound journal or my pocket Moleskines.
While the Pilot G2 is a fine pen for daily writing and especially air travel, where fountain pens have a tendency of exploding with greatly humorous results, I will write daily with my Waterman Expert 2 fountain pen with Noodler's ink. It is traditional, fun, archival, and water resistant.